Another parenting option available through public agencies is foster parenting. Children are placed with foster parents to give birth parents a chance to improve their situations. Birth parents are offered counseling and services during this time. Foster parents receive a monthly stipend for a child's living expenses. In general, the goal of the foster care program is to reunite the child with his or her birth parents if at all possible. However, there is a growing trend toward freeing children for adoption (that is, terminating the parental rights of the birth parents) as quickly as possible to prevent years of drifting in foster care. Recent federal legislation has mandated courts to seek termination of parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the past 22 months unless there are extenuating circumstances.
More and more foster parents are adopting their foster children. This is particularly true for foster children of color or those with special needs. In almost all states, the vast majority of children adopted from the public foster care system were adopted by their foster parents or by their relatives.
Recently, some states have changed the way they perceive their parenting programs. They consider foster parenting and adoption to be a continuum of service, rather than two discrete functions. As a result, agency personnel may ask you at the time of application if you want to be only foster parents, only adoptive parents, or foster/adoptive parents. Foster/adoptive parents are willing to be foster parents while that is the child's need and understand that the agency will make all efforts to reunite the child with the birth parents. However, if the child is freed for adoption, the foster/adoptive parents may be given priority consideration as his or her potential adoptive parents.
It will take some soul searching on your part to decide whether foster parenting is an appropriate option for you. If you can stand some uncertainty, it is a viable option, especially if you have your heart set on a young child and you do not have the funds for a private agency or independent adoption. You must be able to maturely face the prospect of a child being reunited with birth parents, feel sincerely that reunification is indeed in the best interest of the child at that time, and be prepared to handle the grief that would accompany such a loss.
If you are considering this option, discuss becoming a foster/adoptive parent with the agency social workers and other foster parents who have adopted their former foster children.